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Intuitions of objectivity. David Rose. 1. The belief in objectivity. A. In moral philosophy. Philosophy.

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philosophy
Philosophy
  • “The ordinary user of moral language means to say something about whatever it is that he characterizes morally, for example a possible action, as it is in itself, or would be if it were realized, and not about, or even simply expressive of, his, or anyone else's, attitude or relation to it.” (Mackie 1977, 33)
slide5

“Moral values are exactly those values which are not relative: they are the ones that apply to an agent regardless of that agent's desires or cultural placement.” (Joyce 2002, 97).

characterizing objective
Characterizing “objective”
  • The truth conditions for objective claims are independent of the attitudes and feelings people have toward the claim (see Shafer-Landau 2003)
  • Opposed to relativism.
characterizing objective1
Characterizing “objective”
  • Exemplars:
    • matters of fact (e.g. a chlorine atom has 17 protons)
    • matters of logic or math (e.g., 2*7 =14).
  • Indicator: if two individuals disagree about some objective statement, then at least one of them must be wrong.
    • If an alien thinks that chlorine has 12 protons or that 2*7=13, we can’t both be right.
measuring belief in objectivity
Measuring belief in objectivity
  • Anti-relativism: “To what degree is the behavior morally wrong regardless of the culture in which it is practiced?” (Cameron et al 2013)
  • Disagreement: e.g., “Since your classmate and Sam have different judgments about this case, at least one of them must be wrong.” (Sarkissian et al. 2011; Nichols 2004)
slide10

Goodwin & Darley 2008

Robbing a bank in order to pay for an expensive holiday is a morally bad action

1. Do you agree or disagree with this statement:

Strongly disagree 1 2 3 4 5 6 Strongly agree

2*. According to you, can there be a correct answer as to whether this statement is true?

Yes/No

Another respondents sharply disagrees with you.

3*. What would you conclude about this disagreement?

  • the other person is surely mistaken
  • it is possible that neither you nor the other person is mistaken
  • it could be that you are mistaken and the other person is correct
  • other
slide11

Factual:

The earth is not at the center of the known universe

Frequent aerobic exercising (i.e., running, swimming, cycling) usually helps people to lose weight.

Ethical:

Consciously discriminating against someone on the basis of race is morally wrong

Providing false testimony in court about the whereabouts of a friend who is being charged with murder (i.e., to protect that friend by offering an alibi) is morally wrong behavior

Social convention:

Calling teachers by their first name, without being given permission to do so, in a school that calls them ‘‘Mr.’’ or ‘‘Mrs.’’ is wrong behavior

Wearing pajamas and bath robe to a seminar meeting is wrong behavior

Taste:

Shakespeare was a better writer than is Dan Brown (author of ‘‘The Da Vinci Code’’)

Frank Sinatra was a better singer than is Michael Bolton

explanatory burden
Explanatory burden
  • One philosophical motivation for exploring this question is an explanatory burden that accrues to error theorists.
  • As Mackie puts it, the error theorist “must give some account of how other people have fallen into what he regards as an error, and this account will have to include some positive suggestions … about what has been mistaken for, or has led to false beliefs about, objective values” (17-18).
slide18

Mackie presents this as incumbent on error theorists, but really this charge needs to be met by all anti-objectivists who also think that commonsense is committed to moral objectivity.

  • Indeed, even objectivists might be interested – they might like to learn that the commonsense belief comes about through rational inference
explanation 1
Explanation 1
  • Affect (Nichols 2004; Prinz 2007; Cameron et al. 2013).
induction of incidental disgust
Induction of incidental disgust
  • Best evidence comes from Cameron, Payne & Doris (2013)
  • “To what degree is the behavior morally wrong regardless of the culture in which it is practiced?”
  • 1=Not at all to 5=Extremely
explanation 2
Explanation 2
  • Mackie suggests a motivational explanation:
    • There are motives that would support objectification. We need morality to regulate interpersonal relations, to control some of the ways in which people behave towards one another, often in opposition to contrary inclinations. We therefore want our moral judgments to be authoritative for other agents as well as for ourselves: objective validity would give them the authority required (43).
slide28

Determining the cause(s) of the belief in objectivity might provide the basis for a debunking argument

  • The canonical debunking argument is Freud on religion. The basic idea is that religious belief is a product of wishful thinking, and in most cases, wishful thinking is a bad basis for belief about things in the world.
slide29

People believe that God exists because of wishful thinking.

  • Wishful thinking is an epistemically defective basis for coming to believe that God exists.
  • People are not justified in believing that God exists.
process debunking
Process debunking
  • If process Q is an epistemically defective basis for coming to believe that P, then insofar as people believe that P as a result of process Q, their belief that P is unjustified. That conditional licenses the following schema for debunking arguments:
    • S believes that P because of process Q.
    • Process Q is an epistemically defective basis for coming to believe that P.
    • S is not justified in believing P.
slide31

This schema is framed in an unqualified fashion, but such arguments can obviously be developed in more qualified ways as well. So, if we know that S’s belief that P depends to some extent on defective process Q, then we can conclude that S’s belief that P is unjustified to the extent that it depends on process Q.

slide32

The motivational hypothesis suggested by Mackie might form the basis for a debunking argument, but the details matter. And Mackie doesn’t give a very clear proposal.

  • If we believe in objectivity because we want it to be true, that looks a lot like the situation Freud presents for religious belief
  • Now, there are a number of possible replies available to Freud on religion, and rather more for a debunking argument based on Mackie’s underdescribed motivational hypothesis.
  • But before considering replies , we want to present a somewhat more specific version of the motivational hypothesis:
slide33

The punishment thesis:

    • The desire to punish wrongdoers inflates judgments of moral objectivity
slide34

We suggest that judgments of punishment will have a causal influence on judgments of objectivity.

Thus, we endorse:

CasePunishmentObjectivity

slide35

Two causal Models

CasePunishObjetivity

CaseObjectivityPunish

slide36

Accounts of causal processes commonly evaluated by finding the best fitting causal model of the data

study 1
Study 1

Case 2

Case 1

Don consciously discriminated against someone on the basis of race.

Keith ethically assisted in the death of a terminally ill friend who wanted to die.

study 11
Study 1

Punishment

How much should Don/Keith be punished? (1-7 scale with 1=not at all, 7=very much)

Objectivity

Suppose that one day your classmate said “X is morally wrong." But, another classmate, Mark, said “X not morally wrong.“

Given that these individuals have different judgments about this case, we would like to know whether you think at least one of them must be wrong, or whether you think both of them could actually be correct. In other words, to what extent would you agree or disagree with the following statement concerning such a case:

"Since your classmate and Mark have different judgments about this case, at least one of them must be wrong.“

(1-6 scale with 1=completely disagree, 6=completely agree)

study 1 punishment
Study 1: punishment

F(1, 72)=83.173, p<001

study 1 objectivity
Study 1: objectivity

F(1, 72)=4.587, p=.036

study 12
Study 1

Objectivity

Punish

Case

X2(1)=.4965, p=.4810, BIC=-3.7801

Punish

Objectivity

Case

X2(1)=51.5884, p<00001, BIC=47.3117

GES returns our model as the best fitting model of the data (and the model fits the data very well); the other model, when fit, gets rejected. Thus, we find unique support for the hypothesis that the desire to punish plays a causal role in beliefs about objectivity

study 2
Study 2
  • We have some support for the view that punishment has a causal effect on judgments of objectivity
study 21
Study 2
  • If the desire to punish has an effect on judgments of objectivity, then this raises the intriguing possibility that if we intervene directly on the desire to punish, then we should be able to see differences in objectivity
study 22
Study 2
  • The basic idea is that if an individual is severely punished, then this should reduce our desire to punish and thus our tendency to treat the behavior as objectively wrong
  • But if an individual is not punished at all, we’ll be left with the desire to punish, and express this in judgments of objectivity
study 23
Study 2

No Punishment

Severe Punishment

In May of 2011, Don, who was the manager of LLC Inc, consciously discriminated against Alvin on the basis of race and refused to hire him. The incident was reported and Don was arrested. There was no evidence that Don had discriminated in any other cases, but the evidence on this case was extremely clear. The state law allowed for punishments from probation up to lengthy prison term. The judge sentenced Don to 20 years to life in prison.

In May of 2011, Don, who was the manager of LLC Inc, consciously discriminated against Alvin on the basis of race and refused to hire him. However, the incident was never reported and so Don never got caught.

study 24
Study 2

Objectivity

Suppose that one day your classmate said “X is morally wrong." But, another classmate, Mark, said “X not morally wrong.“

Given that these individuals have different judgments about this case, we would like to know whether you think at least one of them must be wrong, or whether you think both of them could actually be correct. In other words, to what extent would you agree or disagree with the following statement concerning such a case:

"Since your classmate and Mark have different judgments about this case, at least one of them must be wrong.“

(1-6 scale with 1=completely disagree, 6=completely agree)

study 25
Study 2

t(77)=-2.415, p=.018

slide49

1. The desire to punish causes the lay belief in objectivity, to some extent.2. The desire to punish is an epistemically defective basis for coming to believe in objectivity.3. To the extent that people believe in objectivity because of their desire to punish, their belief is unjustified.

slide51

A. But what if people also believe in objectivity for some good reason, doesn't that eradicate the debunking worry?

slide52

Reply: of course. Our claim is that whatever amount of credence in objectivity is uniquely contributed by the desire to punish, that amount of credence is unjustified. If there is some other basis for the belief that supplies an adequate level of credence, then the debunking argument won't go through.

  • But this must be shown!
slide53

B. It is not clear that the desire to punish is an epistemically defective basis for believing in objectivity.  Perhaps punishment correlates with some other reliable indicator of objectivity even though it is not directly a reliable indicator of objectivity.

slide54

Objection requires a specific proposal.

  • What is punishment tracking that would happen to be a reliable indicator of objectivity?
  • It’s impossible to evaluate the objection without further specification.
slide55

C. Your results can be interpreted in a different way. It's not that the desire to punish produces a metaphysical belief in objectivity. Rather, the results show that when people affirm objectivity, they are trying to express disapproval rather than engage in metaphysics. (This would be a kind of Blackburn move)

slide56

Reply 1: Unyielding: But results indicate that in lots of other cases studied by G&D, people treat ethical objectivity in ways that track with math and science.

slide57

Reply 2: Concessive: Maybe the Blackburn-style move is right. If so, our results provide novel support for an interesting re-interpretation of folk language.

  • This would still have the effect (which Blackburn, of course, has also pressed) of undercutting the appeal to folk objectivism as a reason to favor philosophical objectivism.